This week, following the absolutely horrific events at Santa Fe High School, the hashtag #IfIDieInASchoolShooting was trending on Twitter and it forced me to deal with a part of my reality that I have been consciously choosing to ignore every day since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February.
Every member of my family is in real danger of being shot to death every single day.
You see, we all go to school.
My husband and I are both high school teachers. When we got married and decided to start a family, it never occurred to us that our children would have two parents in a high risk line of work. After all, it’s not as if we’re both in the military or on the police force. He teaches Math. I teach English and Drama. We spend our days asking teenagers to stop talking and put their cell phones away, in the meantime, hoping that at least a little bit of the knowledge we are desperately trying to share with them is sinking in. We listen to their problems. Sometimes we feed them or buy them school supplies.
And sometimes, we look at them and wonder which one of them might try to kills us one day.
I spend a good part of my day looking for the safest hiding spot in any given room. If I leave my classroom to make copies or return something to the media center, I can’t help but wonder what I would do if shots rang out in that moment, in that space. My mind is constantly spinning, trying to come up with the best emergency plan for any given situation.
These are not arbitrary “what if” scenarios. In addition to what we all witness on the news, I have been in a real lock down situation when a real threat was made against my building by a student who sat in my classroom every day for months. I have been in that moment where I had to decide whether or not I should text my husband and tell him I love him, just in case.
I have, just for a moment, been in a situation where I had to ask myself what I would be willing to do to protect my students.
If I’m being honest, I’m still not sure.
And my babies. My son is 5 years old and, in his Kindergarten class, they practice active shooter drills. The thought of it terrifies and saddens me but I don’t doubt for a second that they are necessary.
They don’t call them “active shooter drills,” of course. He came home one day and told me that they had to practice “in case a bad guy came into school.” He described huddling on the ground in the dark, silently, with his classmates. He said that the principal jiggled the door handle to make sure that it was locked and he got scared because he thought it was a real bad guy.
He asked his teacher what would happen if the bad guy had a gun because one wall of his classroom is full of windows. He says she told him that the classroom windows are made of special glass that you can’t shoot through.
But that isn’t true. He knows it isn’t true.
And so he’s afraid. Of course he is.
And even my little girl, my two and a half year old. After the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I don’t even feel like she is safe. And they don’t practice active shooter drills with toddlers.
I do my very best to squash these thoughts every single day. If I didn’t, I don’t know if I’d be able to get myself into my classroom each morning. I don’t know if I’d be able to let my husband go to work or let my babies go to school. So I put those thoughts in a box and tuck it away in the back of my mind.
Until I’m scrolling through Twitter one night and I see it all over my feed.
If I die in a school shooting…. then what?
Then my children grow up without a mother.
Then my husband and I never get to grow old together.
Then my parents lose their only daughter and my brother loses his only sister.
Then I never get to see another Broadway musical, I never get to go to Disney World again, I never run a full marathon…
The list goes on.
And then I thought, if I die in a school shooting…
At least it was me and not one of my children.
Most days, I do a good job of managing my anxiety, ignoring the danger and continuing to serve my students the best way that I know how.
Today, I had to take a Xanax just to get out of my car and walk into work.
This is certainly not what I imagined when I set out to become a teacher. This is not the reality that I expected for my family.
But here we are.
So, #IfIDieInASchoolShooting, make sure my children know that their Mommy loved them more than anything in the world. Make sure they know that I loved my job, but I loved them more and I would have rather been with them.
Convince my husband to go into another line of work so that they don’t have to go through it twice.
Tell my story. Say my name.
And stay angry.
Make sure that I am the last one.